Audi wanted to give Florida Governor Rick Scott a treat. After all, he's the man that signed the state's autonomous vehicle testing legislation into law, so Audi closed down the Selmon Expressway to give the Gov a ride. And then it broke. Twice.
The run was outside of Tampa on of 10 roads in the U.S. designated as an autonomous driving and connected car research area, partially made possible by HB 1207, which Scott signed into law in 2012.
The entire demo was heavily choreographed, with the road shut down, two other Audis acting as "traffic", and, while the system on the A7 can handle speeds up to 40 mph, in this setting, engineers limited it to 25 mph.
According to the Tampa Bay Tribune, after getting inside for the first test, Scott's run was cut short because one of the 22 sensors on board wasn't communicating with the computer controlling it all. Then it happened again. Audi spokesman Bradley Stertz confirmed to Jalopnik that a sensor had failed twice, requiring the A7 to stop and have the sensor rebooted.
On the third try, with the cameras rolling, Scott got his brief ride down the highway with the A7 accelerating, braking, and steering based on the roadway conditions and the other vehicles surrounding him.
The demo was the latest test of Audi's Traffic Jam Pilot, a semi-autonomous system that will take over in start-and-stop traffic. It's slated to go on sale within the next five years – plenty of time for engineers to get the rest of the kinks worked out.
UPDATE 8:56 PM: Here's a comment from Audi's Stertz on what went wrong:
Infrequently the engineers need to reboot a monitor that tells them what the sensors are seeing as it is driving. As a precaution on the drive they stopped twice to reboot the monitors. They believe the problem was the communications from the sensors to the monitor, nothing more dire than that. But they wanted to be certain the system could be monitored throughout the day, as they always do during testing drives.
It had been working flawlessly all week before without any restarts.
In any event they Traffic Jam Pilot is overridden if the driver taps the brake or grabs the steering wheel.